NFL1000: Final Regular-Season Breakdown of the League's Top Players

Doug Farrar@@BR_DougFarrar NFL Lead ScoutJanuary 5, 2017

NFL1000: Final Regular-Season Breakdown of the League's Top Players

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    After 17 weeks of grading, noting injury replacements and position switches, and arguing among ourselves as to which particular attributes are most important at every position, the NFL1000 team has come to the end of its first regular season in this particular iteration.

    It's been an amazing journey—the ability to assemble a team of 17 scouts to analyze and grade every player in every game has given us (and hopefully you, dear reader) unique insight into how football is played, coached and schemed.

    Throughout the year, we've done comprehensive write-ups every week with our player grades and explanations of those grades. But for the regular-season finale, and in the work-up to the postseason (because we're not nearly done yet), it's time to hand out the awards for the best players overall. We have come up with cumulative grades, and you can now see which players we deemed to be the best at their positions and the best overall.

    Our top two overall players show the extreme value of quarterback protection. Washington Redskins left tackle Trent Williams was graded as the best overall player, though he missed four games with a league-mandated suspension. There is no blocker in the NFL with Williams' combination of strength, agility and meanness.

    The Dallas Cowboys offensive line is the centerpiece of its current success, and left tackle Tyron Smith graded second overall league-wide. No surprise there—Smith has been dominant for the last few years, as pass-rushers can rarely get around him.

    Two Philadelphia Eagles offensive linemen ranked in the top six—left tackle Jason Peters and right tackle Lane Johnson, the latter of whom's absence demonstrated his importance. Johnson missed 10 games after being suspended for a performance-enhancing-drug violation, but he was so dominant when he played that it's fair to wonder whether the Eagles would have made the playoffs had he been active all season. Philly's backups never measured up.

    Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers ranks third overall—again, no surprise there. While he may lose the NFL Most Valuable Player award to the Atlanta Falcons signal-caller Matt Ryan, and he did have bouts of inconsistency in 2016, Rodgers was on fire during the second half of the season, showing his rare combination of accuracy, mobility and arm talent. When he's on, he's the best quarterback in the league (and one of the best ever). His grades reflected that throughout the season.

    We had specific criteria for entry into the year-end NFL1000 lists: Players had to play at least five games. There are instances in which players switched positions throughout the year (Green Bay receiver/running back Ty Montgomery is a prime example), and for the most part, we graded those players at all of the positions they played and kept them there for the review. We saw scheme changes with the Oakland Raiders and New York Jets defense over the season and switched them from their original 3-4/4-3 designations, so you'll see examples of Jets and Raiders players in our grades for both kinds of ends and linebackers.

    As it has been through the season, there is no predetermined narrative with these grades. No mysterious "clutch factor." No tweaked-out quarterback ratings that defy explanation. Our grades are based on pure scouting, and lots of it. We grade the key criteria for each position based on a series of attributes and add in a score for positional importance.

    In the case of a tie, our scouts ask, "Which player would I want on my team?" and adjust accordingly.

    Is it a subjective process? Of course—that's what scouting is, and as we like to say, ties are no fun.

    Each player is evaluated and graded by our crack team of scouts, who possess more than 100 combined years of experience in playing, front-office work, coaching and media. Cian Fahey, John Middlekauff, Marcus Mosher, Mark Schofield, Duke Manyweather, Ethan Young, Joe Goodberry, Justis Mosqueda, Charles McDonald, Zach Kruse, Derrik Klassen, Jerod Brown, Ian Wharton, Kyle Posey, Mark Bullock, Chuck Zodda and Doug Farrar have watched tape for months to bring you these grades.

    Here are the final NFL1000 player grades for the 2016 NFL regular season.


    All advanced stats are courtesy of Pro Football Focus.


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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    The NFL1000 team of scouts was given a series of important attributes to grade for every player in their positional review. Using a grading scale starting at 0 and going up to anywhere from five to 50 based on the position and the attribute, our scouts grade each player based on their own expertise and countless hours of tape review over the years. Our evaluators are given specific positional assignments based on their proven fields of expertise.

    Every NFL player with snaps in offensive and defensive roles is observed and graded based on a multitiered process that marks specific attributes per position. As we're combing through All-22 footage to assess each performance, there are additional factors to consider.

    We adjust for opponent based on the obvious notion that the cornerback we're grading is doing a better job if he's shutting down Antonio Brown than if he's negating the efforts of a seventh-round rookie receiver.

    We also adjust for players with multiple responsibilities in the course of a game and over the course of time. Think of guys like Mike Daniels and Michael Bennett on the defensive line—how they seamlessly switch from gap to gap. Or how cornerbacks such as Chris Harris Jr. and Tyrann Mathieu dominate outside and in the slot. Or how receivers such as Doug Baldwin and Larry Fitzgerald bedevil cornerbacks from multiple field positions.

    That's more important than ever in today's NFL, and we pay attention to it.

    We do not adjust for injuries. If a player is underperforming because of an injury, that's part of his performance, fair or unfair, and it needs to be graded accordingly.

    Grading any player is a subjective process, but with a series of attributes per position and a specific direction as to what to grade and how, we work to make it as definitive as possible.

    Editor's note: We rounded many scores to fit more neatly within the tables, so please be aware that the rounded versions of the scores may not always appear to add up perfectly. Rest assured that they do within our full spreadsheet. 

Top 50 Overall

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    Tom Dahlin/Getty Images

    One of the best parts of the NFL1000 project is how it brings deserved exposure to underrated players. Take Miami Dolphins safety Reshad Jones, who isn't talked about enough among the elite at his position. He was on pace to repeat his stellar 2015 campaign before an October shoulder injury prematurely ended his season. He played just six games but made the cut for our final rankings, and Miami will benefit from his excellence once again next year.

    Seattle's Earl Thomas is one of the NFL's best safeties, and after he broke his left leg in Week 13, the Seahawks' generally stellar defense has fallen apart. According to's Bill Barnwell, they had 10 interceptions and allowed seven touchdowns and a 77.8 opponent passer rating when Thomas was on the field. Without him? They've allowed nine touchdowns with one pick and an opponent passer rating of 99.5.

    One reason Aaron Rodgers was able to come around in the second half of the season is a lot of great pass-blocking. Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari, one of the favorites of offensive tackle scout Duke Manyweather, ranks ninth overall in our grades. Bakhtiari allowed four sacks in 1,055 regular-season snaps, but no hits and just 16 hurries. He also didn't give up any sacks since Week 13.

    Another formerly under-the-radar lineman is Kansas City Chiefs right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, who hasn't allowed a sack since Week 12 after giving up five in the first two weeks of the season. Schwartz has sealed up his technique and his screen blocking has helped to revitalize Kansas City's offense, which relies heavily on screens to Travis Kelce (our top-ranked tight end this season) and various other short passing concepts. Schwartz will play a vital role in the Chiefs' playoff success.

    Finally, while the Baltimore Ravens offense was underwhelming throughout the year, that wasn't on fullback Kyle Juszczyk. He helped in every possible way—blocking, running and receiving. Juszczyk making the top 50 and Denver Broncos rookie Andy Janovich just missing the cut seems to indicate that the fullback position might not be dead just yet.


    NFL1000 End-of-Season Top 50 Overall
    RankPlayerPos.TeamEnd-of-Season Avg.
    1Trent WilliamsLTWAS83.1
    2Tyron SmithLTDAL83.0
    3Aaron RodgersQBGB81.5
    4Lane JohnsonRTPHI81.0
    5Aaron DonaldDTLA80.9
    6Jason PetersLTPHI80.6
    7Reshad JonesSSMIA80.5
    8Le'Veon BellRBPIT80.3
    9David BakhtiariLTGB79.9
    10Joe ThomasLTCLE79.7
    11Luke KuechlyILBCAR79.5
    12David JohnsonRBARI79.2
    13Cordy GlennLTBUF78.9
    14Jadeveon Clowney3-4 OLBHOU78.9
    15Bryan BulagaRTGB78.7
    16Ezekiel ElliottRBDAL78.5
    17Jamie CollinsILBNE/CLE78.3
    18Marcus GilbertRTPIT78.1
    19Jerrell FreemanILBCHI77.9
    20Von Miller3-4 OLBDEN77.9
    21Donald PennLTOAK77.3
    22Chris Harris Jr.CBDEN77.3
    23Devin McCourtyFSNE77.1
    24Marshal YandaOGBAL77.0
    25Geno AtkinsDTCIN77.0
    26Tom BradyQBNE76.9
    27Mitchell SchwartzRTKC76.9
    28LeSean McCoyRBBUF76.7
    29Harrison SmithFSMIN76.6
    30Kam ChancellorSSSEA76.5
    31Zach StriefRTNO76.3
    32Fletcher CoxDTPHI76.3
    33Ty NsekheLTWAS76.2
    34Ndamukong SuhDTMIA76.2
    35Andrew LuckQBIND76.1
    36Kyle JuszczykFBBAL76.1
    37Taylor LewanLTTEN76.1
    38Joe StaleyLTSF76.0
    39Josh SittonOGCHI76.0
    40DeMarco MurrayRBTEN75.9
    41Andrew WhitworthLTCIN75.9
    42Sam BradfordQBMIN75.8
    43A.J. GreenWRCIN75.8
    44Ryan SchraederRTATL75.6
    45Cam NewtonQBCAR75.6
    46Riley ReiffRTDET75.5
    47Eric BerrySSKC75.5
    48Earl ThomasFSSEA75.5
    49Jake MatthewsLTATL75.4
    50Melvin Ingram3-4 OLBSD75.4


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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Aaron Rodgers was the top-ranked quarterback at midseason, and he only pulled further away over the second half of the campaign. His Week 16 outing against Minnesota was the best performance of any quarterback all year, and his 300-yard, four-touchdown game against Detroit in Week 17 wasn't far off. Rodgers may not win the MVPhe can thank his receivers for thatbut he deserves it more than any other signal-caller. 

    The likely MVP winner at this point appears to be Atlanta's Matt Ryan, whose numbers have been inflated by an outstanding supporting cast. Julio Jones has been brilliant when available, but more importantly, coordinator Kyle Shanahan's play-callingcombined with an impressive offensive line and pair of great running backshas put Ryan in position to throw from wide-open pockets of space into wide-open pockets of space. Ryan was also lucky with bad throws that could (or should) have been interceptions.

    New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady didn't play until the fifth game of the season, but since making his debut, he has been consistently impressive. Though Brady hasn't played at the peak of his powers like in previous seasons, he consistently stood out against weaker opposition. His best game of the year his 406-yard, three-touchdown outing against the Ravens, even though he had one terrible interception.

    Sam Bradford's 2015 season with the Philadelphia Eagles was a battle over the first eight games or so, as he struggled to set his feet coming off the second ACL tear of his career. A last-minute trade to the Minnesota Vikings heading into 2016 threatened to disrupt his preparation once again, but Bradford was a stud. Playing behind the worst pass-blocking line in the league with unreliable receivers and often problematic play-calling, Bradford consistently threw receivers open while playing against pressure. Despite those less-than-ideal conditions, he led the league in completion percentage and rarely put the ball at risk of being intercepted.

    Injuries also adversely affected Seattle's Russell Wilson in 2016. During the first half of the season, he had multiple lower-body ailments that prevented him from setting his feet comfortably or being his usual elusive self behind the line of scrimmage. Wilson had some great stretches of play this year, but his season as a whole was marred by not being 100 percent.

    In the same NFC West division as Wilson, Los Angeles Rams rookie Jared Goff proved to be a disaster, while the player selected immediately after him, Philadelphia's Carson Wentz, wasn't that much better.

    Dallas' Dak Prescott outshone both players, as although he has obvious flaws in his ball placement and doesn't offer the same value Tony Romo does, he has consistently done enough to help the Cowboys win. It hasn't all just been the offensive line, either. Prescott's acumen to diagnose coverages and change plays, combined with his poise, has made him an extremely valuable player in Dallas.


    Top Scorers

    • Top Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
    • Worst Quarterback: Blaine Gabbert, San Francisco 49ers
    • Most Accurate: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
    • Least Accurate: Blaine Gabbert, San Francisco 49ers
    • Best Arm: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
    • Worst Arm: Ryan Fitzpatrick, New York Jets
    • Best Under Pressure/Run Threat: Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
    • Worst Under Pressure/Run Threat: Gabbert
    • Best Decision-Maker: Tom Brady, New England Patriots
    • Worst Decision-Maker: Blaine Gabbert, San Francisco 49ers


    Grading Scale

    • Acc: Accuracy (Graded out of 25)
    • Arm: Arm Strength (Graded out of 25)
    • Press: Pressure/Run Threat (Graded out of 20) (Pressure weighted at 15, run threat at 5)
    • Dec: Decision-Making (Graded out of 20)
    • Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)
    • Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100


    NFL1000 End-of-Season Quarterback Rankings
    1Aaron RodgersGB20.022.614.414.61081.5
    2Tom BradyNE18.619.514.214.71076.9
    3Andrew LuckIND17.721.513.913.01076.1
    4Sam BradfordMIN17.920.713.513.71075.8
    5Cam NewtonCAR16.122.114.313.01075.6
    6Drew BreesNO17.619.714.313.81075.3
    7Philip RiversSD17.119.114.914.11075.1
    8Ryan TannehillMIA17.520.513.413.11074.5
    9Carson PalmerAZ16.920.913.712.91074.3
    10Matt RyanATL16.919.014.114.21074.1
    11Ben RoethlisbergerPIT16.620.513.612.91073.6
    12Marcus MariotaTEN16.719.613.913.31073.5
    13Dak PrescottDAL15.819.313.813.81072.6
    14Tyrod TaylorBUF15.320.014.312.71072.4
    15Matthew StaffordDET15.420.813.612.51072.4
    16Russell WilsonSEA16.919.912.213.41072.3
    17Derek CarrOAK16.121.111.812.91071.9
    18Eli ManningNYG15.719.613.312.81071.4
    19Alex SmithKC15.718.212.713.11069.7
    20Colin KaepernickSF14.619.213.511.81069.1
    21Jay CutlerCHI15.020.811.811.01068.6
    22Jameis WinstonTB13.418.413.212.91067.9
    23Trevor SiemianDEN15.118.112.311.91067.4
    24Andy DaltonCIN14.818.311.312.41066.8
    25Brian HoyerCHI15.017.211.512.71066.3
    26Kirk CousinsWAS15.117.911.711.61066.3
    27Joe FlaccoBAL14.
    28Robert Griffin IIICLE12.
    29Carson WentzPHI13.617.912.211.41065.1
    30Matt BarkleyCHI13.617.412.111.91065.0
    31Cody KesslerCLE14.917.311.211.01064.4
    32Matt MooreMIA14.317.511.311.31064.3
    33Case KeenumLA14.017.611.310.81063.7
    34Blake BortlesJAX12.617.711.710.31062.3
    35Ryan FitzpatrickNYJ13.116.310.610.71060.7
    36Brock OsweilerHOU12.617.110.210.51060.3
    37Jared GoffLA12.016.710.910.71060.3
    38Blaine GabbertSF10.816.310.28.51055.8


    Notable Omissions (Due to Insufficient Games Scored)

    • Jimmy Garoppolo
    • Geno Smith
    • Nick Foles
    • Tom Savage
    • Tony Romo
    • Drew Stanton
    • EJ Manuel
    • Josh McCown
    • Bryce Petty
    • Paxton Lynch
    • Trevone Boykin

Running Backs

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    Joe Sargent/Getty Images

    In 2016, star running backs made a re-emergence, while a couple of young guys established their worth as great players in the NFL.

    Despite being suspended the first three games of the season, Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell was the highest-graded running back in this year's NFL1000. He averaged almost five yards per carry on the ground to go along with 75 catches. He carried the Steelers at times when Ben Roethlisberger struggled. He is a Hall of Fame talent who should break the bank this spring in free agency. 

    Arizona's David Johnson established himself as the league's second-best running back in 2016, demonstrating an ability to carry an average team when quarterback Carson Palmer struggled. Johnson had a health scare against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 17 when he was rolled up on, but he should be 100 percent healthy heading into 2017. He might even be a better receiver than Bell, as he caught 80 balls and possesses the speed to run go routes for the Cardinals. He is an exceptional player, and Arizona should build its offense around him moving forward.

    A couple of runners who had a poor 2015 season also bounced back with exceptional years. Buffalo's LeSean McCoy was dominant when he wasn't battling injuries, looking like the player who was a star years ago in Philadelphia. He finished with his highest average per carry of his career (5.4), had his quickness back and was often the most explosive player on the field.

    Another former Eagles, DeMarco Murray of the Titans, also had a resurgent season. He helped Tennessee make a playoff push by dominating on the ground in one of the league's most physical running attacks. There might not have been a better downhill runner in 2016. Murray's ability to put his foot in the ground and get north and south is special. In addition, he's a complete back as a blocker and pass-catcher.

    Injuries also played a huge role in 2016. The Vikings' Adrian Peterson missed the majority of the season with a torn meniscus. Jamaal Charles of the Chiefs endured multiple setbacks as he worked his way back from a second ACL tear. Miami's Arian Foster retired because of injuries. Some younger players, like the Detroit Lions' Ameer Abdullah and Packers' Eddie Lacy, missed the majority of the year because they could not stay healthy.

    Dallas rookie Ezekiel Elliott established himself as a superstar, leading the league in rushing and helping carry the Cowboys to the best record in the NFC. The Chicago Bears look to have found an impact starter in fifth-round pick Jordan Howard, who finished second in the league in rushing behind Elliott.


    Top Scorers

    • Top Running Back: Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
    • Worst Running Back: Bobby Rainey, New York Giants
    • Best Inside Runner: Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
    • Worst Inside Runner: Bobby Rainey, New York Giants
    • Best Outside Runner: Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
    • Worst Outside Runner: Andre Ellington, Arizona Cardinals
    • Best Receiver: David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
    • Worst Receiver: Kenyan Drake, Miami Dolphins
    • Best Blocker: Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
    • Worst Blocker: Bobby Rainey, New York Giants


    Grading Scale

    • In: Inside Running (Graded out of 25)
    • Out: Outside Running (Graded out of 25)
    • Rec: Receiving (Graded out of 20)
    • Blk: Blocking (Graded out of 20)
    • Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)
    • Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100


    NFL1000 End-of-Season Running Back Rankings
    1Le'Veon BellPIT20.218.817.817.4680.3
    2David A. JohnsonARI19.618.717.917.1679.2
    3Ezekiel ElliottDAL20.118.916.317.2678.5
    4LeSean McCoyBUF19.218.316.716.5676.7
    5DeMarco MurrayTEN18.917.316.617.2675.9
    6Devonta FreemanATL18.817.416.616.3675.0
    7Spencer WareKC18.916.916.416.5674.6
    8Melvin GordonSD18.617.016.816.1674.4
    9C.J. AndersonDEN18.316.316.616.7673.9
    10Eddie LacyGB20.016.215.416.2673.8
    11Lamar MillerHOU18.117.516.315.9673.8
    12Theo RiddickDET16.617.417.615.9673.5
    13Jordan HowardCHI18.417.115.916.1673.5
    14Carlos HydeSF18.516.715.815.9673.0
    15LeGarrette BlountNE18.816.715.116.2672.8
    16Jonathan C. StewartCAR18.116.615.216.6672.5
    17Jay AjayiMIA18.216.915.815.6672.5
    18Todd GurleyLA17.516.616.316.1672.4
    19Latavius MurrayOAK17.616.816.016.0672.4
    20Mark IngramNO17.616.316.316.2672.4
    21Doug MartinTB17.916.115.816.6672.4
    22Ty MontgomeryGB17.816.416.715.3672.2
    23Tevin ColemanATL17.116.316.815.8672.0
    24Dion LewisNE17.317.016.315.3672.0
    25Ryan MathewsPHI17.816.515.715.9671.9
    26Giovani BernardCIN16.516.716.616.1671.9
    27Isaiah CrowellCLE17.616.116.115.9671.8
    28Frank GoreIND17.415.016.316.9671.6
    29Darren SprolesPHI17.016.216.715.7671.5
    30Jeremy HillCIN17.516.315.716.0671.5
    31DeAngelo WilliamsPIT17.
    32Bilal PowellNYJ16.716.216.415.9671.1
    33Thomas RawlsSEA17.116.115.816.0671.0
    34Matt JonesWAS18.015.715.316.0671.0
    35Christine MichaelSEA/GB17.315.915.516.1670.9
    36Duke JohnsonCLE16.116.416.915.4670.8
    37Robert KelleyWAS17.915.715.115.9670.6
    38Kenneth DixonBAL17.316.015.715.5670.5
    39Terrance WestBAL17.016.115.915.5670.5
    40Derrick HenryTEN17.215.815.715.7670.5
    41Rashad JenningsNYG16.815.215.916.2670.2
    42James WhiteNE15.616.116.915.6670.1
    43Matt ForteNYJ17.115.716.216.1670.1
    44Charles SimsTB16.115.616.415.9670.0
    45Chris ThompsonWAS15.416.816.515.2669.9
    46C.J. ProsiseSEA16.216.416.814.4669.8
    47DeAndre WashingtonOAK17.116.015.515.0669.6
    48Chris IvoryJAX16.715.315.615.9669.5
    49Jerick McKinnonMIN16.216.416.214.7669.5
    50Jacquizz RodgersTB17.215.615.415.1669.3
    51Jalen RichardOAK16.716.215.614.8669.3
    52Mike GillisleeBUF16.716.315.215.1669.2
    53Zach ZennerDET16.714.615.716.1669.1
    54James StarksGB16.115.115.816.0669.0
    55Tim HightowerNO16.415.815.515.2668.9
    56Wendell SmallwoodPHI17.015.715.215.0668.9
    57Alfred BlueHOU16.615.515.215.5668.8
    58T.J. YeldonJAX16.414.815.615.8668.5
    59Charcandrick WestKC15.715.615.815.3668.5
    60Matt AsiataMIN16.314.615.615.8668.3
    61Devontae BookerDEN16.615.315.415.1668.3
    62Paul PerkinsNYG16.315.715.814.5668.3
    63Jeremy LangfordCHI15.815.015.316.2668.3
    64Alfred MorrisDAL16.415.215.415.2668.1
    65Fozzy WhittakerCAR15.316.115.714.9668.1
    66Alex CollinsSEA16.114.615.715.3667.7
    67Ben CunnunghamLA15.115.415.615.3667.4
    68Damien WilliamsMIA15.515.115.815.0667.3
    69Kenyan DrakeMIA15.116.414.814.9667.2
    70Justin ForsettBAL/DET/DEN15.814.915.215.2667.1
    71Dwayne WashingtonDET15.914.914.915.3667.0
    72Denard RobinsonJAX15.
    73Peyton BarberTB15.815.015.214.8666.8
    74Robert TurbinIND15.514.615.515.1666.7
    75Kenjon BarnerPHI15.015.515.314.8666.7
    76Jonathan GrimesHOU15.514.515.115.1666.3
    77Shaun DraughnSF15.414.615.215.1666.2
    78Travaris CadetNO14.414.616.215.0666.2
    79Josh FergusonIND14.614.615.315.7666.1
    80Andre EllingtonARI15.014.515.615.0666.1
    81Lance DunbarDAL14.814.715.514.5665.5
    82Bobby RaineyNYG14.114.616.114.3665.1


    Notable Omissions (Due to Insufficient Games Scored)

    • Ameer Abdullah
    • Danny Woodhead
    • Shane Vereen
    • Jamaal Charles
    • Rex Burkhead
    • Darren McFadden
    • Adrian Peterson
    • Arian Foster
    • Chris Johnson
    • DuJuan Harris
    • Jonathan Williams
    • Reggie Bush
    • Kenneth Farrow
    • Terron Ward
    • KaDeem Carey
    • Ronnie Hillman


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    Joe Sargent/Getty Images

    Fullbacks are somewhat of a dying breed in the NFL, but several teams still utilize the position well.

    Ravens fullback Kyle Juszczyk has established himself as the most dynamic player at the position. He was Balitmore's best offensive player in 2016, with the ability to run, block and catch. He did everything he could to keep their playoff hopes alive in Week 16 against the Steelers, ev